About half of Mario & Luigi: Dream Team takes place inside of a slumbering Luigi’s dreams, which look conspicuously like an old Super Mario Bros. title. Even in Luigi’s wildest fantasies, he’s playing a simple Nintendo game starring his brother. He’s apparently never heard the phrase “dream big.”
Even if he had, it’s clear his ambitions stop shy of Mario’s shadow. There’s one telling part of Dream Team where Mario, entrenched in Luigi’s subconscious, pulls an Inception and goes deeper, jumping into a dream-within-a-dream. This level of Luigi’s psyche is bright without actually being illuminated, like a haunted house that decided to hang a few neon beer signs. Silhouettes of Luigi dance in the glow, and their words of encouragement flash across the screen: “I love my bro!” “My bro is the best!” “Gooooooo Mario!” The purest essence of Luigi, it seems, is meant to lift Mario on his tall, lanky shoulders and nothing more. The entirety of Dream Team is hero worship bordering on obsession—an unnecessary exercise for a guy who’s been the face of video games for almost 30 years.
This eerie subservience can be found in every aspect of the game. The story arrives in fits and starts—logically unsound but confidently so. Nobody cares to question why Mario, Luigi, and their crew were invited to Pi’illo Island, a resort where a mad doctor is conducting sleep experiments—until he decides not to, but then he does again. Or why the current residents of Pi’illo Island are maniacal block-headed robots who speak in French accents and inexplicably sic goons on you—until they don’t, and then they do again. These aren’t the sorts of concerns you raise to your betters, especially when they place a familiar mustachioed hero front and center.
Luigi is the least skeptical of anyone throughout Dream Team. He’s a patsy who follows Mario around until the duo finds sentient blobs of goo to fight. (At least 85 percent of the enemies are sentient blobs of goo.) And in Dream Team’s turn-based, jumping-on-heads combat, Mario always goes first.
While exploring Pi’illo Island, Luigi stands behind Mario so he can whack his brother with a hammer, shrinking the hero so he can squeeze through tight spots and venture alone toward treasure. Luigi is so inconsequential during these parts that his existence is even wiped from the ever-present on-screen reminder of what each button does. Speaking of buttons, the instructional tutorials in Dream Team are offered and re-offered. Then, even if you say no, they are thrust upon you anyway. Nintendo will tell you how to play its game, and you’d better obey.
There is one thing Luigi has above Mario, one area in which he truly outdoes his more stout sibling: sleeping. Yes, Dream Team emphasizes that Luigi’s pathetic second-fiddle existence is partially due to his tendency to fall asleep anytime, anywhere. Luckily, on Pi’illo Island, that’s not a liability, but the key to saving its doomed natives. Its pillow-like inhabitants have been imprisoned in a dreamworld accessible only through stone pillows that are scattered around the island. Luigi uses his amazing slumber powers so Mario can infiltrate the dream world and rescue them.
The sleep world differs from Pi’illo Island only in that Luigi is now a mere figment of his own imagination. He can inhabit background objects, like a tree that sort of looks like his face, launching Mario through the air or aligning platforms to help him cross gaps. Other times, dream Luigi multiplies himself, then piles into a climbable tower and hoists Mario onto his collective shoulders. Only in these servile moments is Luigi essential.
Battles in the dream world find Luigi’s ghostly dream-form inhabiting Mario. He springs out to attack enemies after his brother makes a move, then promptly disappears. He is a slave to Mario even in a state of rest that should bring out his most unbridled creativity. One “Luiginary” move—the name given to attacks that combine the powers of both bros—has Mario roll up a big ball of Luigis and hurl it at their foes. This isn’t unlike the time I sent my little brother trick-or-treating and then ate his candy.
All of this would be forgivable if Dream Team didn’t constantly remind you that Mario and Luigi are a team, equal partners working to save these pillow people. When drilling to discover more magic pillow rocks, the brothers operate heavy machinery together, one on each side, scouring for rocks with a promising purple glow. Moments like this, that show equality rather than servitude, are scarce. Like dreams themselves, they fade from memory and seem more out of place as time passes. This is yet another Mario game under the guise of a tandem effort, barely daring to dream at all.